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News & Trends - Pharmaceuticals

Roche partners with Australia’s largest university in multiple sclerosis research

Health Industry Hub | March 6, 2023 |

Pharma News: The cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) is still one of the biggest scientific mysteries in neuroscience, with no cure for patients. The life-long neurological disease affects people at the peak of their working and reproductive lives – between 20 and 40 years of age. In turn, lost productivity and high healthcare expenses results in a cost to Australia of more than $1.7 billion annually.

The latest data shows a 30% increase in Aussies living with MS, an alarming trend that is prompting action.

Dr Vilija Jokubaitis, Group leader, MS Genomics and Prognostics group, Department of Neuroscience at Monash University has entered into a long-term scientific partnership with Roche to collaborate, share research data, and create a unique bio-databank resource in MS.

The four-year project will directly result in new knowledge of the impact of pregnancy on immune cells in people with MS and a greater understanding of how mechanistic changes improve short-term MS disability outcomes.

Pregnancy may be protective against long-term disability progression in women with MS. Work by Dr Jokubaitis and collaborators has revealed that pregnancy can delay the onset of the disease, and that women with MS who have pregnancies accumulate less disability over time. Pregnancy offers a unique context to understand the pathophysiology of the disease and develop novel therapeutic targets that may stop progression of the disease. Although not a cure, this is one of the closest steps to generating health impact for MS.

Through Roche’s Neuroscience program, the four year ground-breaking project will allow sharing of expertise and resources between academics at Monash, and lead scientists at Roche, working collaboratively towards the acceleration of common goals.

Disease outcomes are highly variable in patients with MS. The majority of patients need to remain on life-long disease-modifying immunotherapies (DMTs) to reduce irreversible neurological disability.

Since 2017, the number of Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) listed DMTs for MS has increased to 14 therapies, with the top 4 being Novartis’ Gilenya, Biogen’s Tecfidera and Tysabri, and Sanofi’s Aubagio.

In line with its advocacy agenda, MS Australia wrote to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) ahead of the March meeting to support the inclusion of a subcutaneous form of Biogen’s Tysabri (natalizumab) on the PBS.

Dr Vilija Jokubaitis, primary chief investigator of the four-year project commencing this year said “I’m very excited to kick off this project, one that I hope will help us to better understand some of the fundamental biological processes driving MS outcomes in a key group in our community. Of course, I am incredibly lucky to be supported by world-leading clinical and scientific collaborators locally, nationally and internationally in this truly multidisciplinary project.”

“This is a well-deserved recognition and a true reflection of the excellence of Dr Joubaitis’ research work and leadership at Monash in the last five years,” said Professor Helmut Butzkueven, Head of the Department of Neuroscience.

It is envisioned that the project will in the longer term inform new therapeutic development, and new molecular diagnostics that accurately predict prognosis for women (pregnant and non-pregnant) with MS.

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